By Transforming a ‘Stroad,’ Denver Can Move Forward on a Safer, More Inclusive Transportation System
Like many rapidly growing cities across the United States, Denver wrestles with its car-prioritized legacy of interstate building and exit expansions through its increasingly traffic-snarled communities. Just off the Lincoln/Broadway exit today, the dangerous, multilane urban arterial roadway we know as Lincoln Street whisks cars as quickly as possible from I-25 into downtown. Not surprisingly, drivers take full advantage. They speed—and they crash—placing Lincoln in the High Injury Network.
Fortunately, Denver has adopted a Vision Zero Action Plan and has started to build out multimodal networks to address its growing traffic crash rate, dedicating bus lanes along downtown and adjacent streets such as Broadway. However, there is one last piece of the puzzle in this transit-oriented area that needs a safety-centric touch: that unique, urban, and mostly residential segment from I-25 to Speer, considered Baker on the west side and Washington Park West on the east side.
Today, it’s a car-centric “stroad”—an unproductive, unsafe hybrid of a street and a road, on the brink of decline in some areas. But, with a few improvements to the Corridor to increase access and safety for those walking, cycling and taking transit, it can be transformed into a community-first place worth arriving at.
A walk down Lincoln today reveals just how much the street prioritizes cars over people. Drivers regularly travel at speeds well above the posted speed limit of 30mph—typically in the range of 40-50mph, and higher at night. Holding a conversation with another person with street noise at 75-80 decibels is a challenge. Vibrations from fast-moving heavy vehicles such as buses can be felt in adjacent structures, particularly where tree lawns were removed and the distance from doorways to speeding vehicles is minimal. While attempting to access grocery stores, shops, bus stops and light rail, or simply taking a stroll down the street, pedestrians are dodging cars, even in crosswalks. Cyclists have taken to riding on the sidewalks to stay safe.
(North-facing Lincoln Street today, just off the I-25 exit ramp. Though this is a transit-rich area, walking is dangerous since buffer zones to protect pedestrians have been removed to ensure interstate traffic is whisked quickly downtown.)
While the problems of Lincoln’s dangerous design are numerous and complex, the solutions are already laid out in city plans: Blueprint Denver and Denver Moves: Transit. By reclassifying streets, Blueprint Denver communicates a key distinction between Lincoln and its one-way couplet partner, Broadway. While Broadway maintains its commercial thoroughfare status as a Main Street Arterial, Lincoln Street is reclassified as a Residential Arterial. This new classification takes into account the adjacent land use, and implies that Lincoln’s street design be similar to parallel north-south Residential Arterials in the area, Logan and Downing. Both of these streets are considered thoroughfares like Lincoln, yet they have two general purpose travel lanes instead of three, two-way traffic flow, and traffic calming elements such as medians and buffer zones with tree lawns and/or parking.
Lincoln Street, however, is unique: as part of the Lincoln/Broadway Corridor, it is also considered a High Capacity Transit Corridor by Denver Moves Transit. This means it’s a candidate for Bus Rapid Transit or rail, each of which require full bus or rail stop amenities. Fortunately, implementing the goals of each of these documents is straightforward and in line with the City’s goals for Complete Streets Design, which are the city’s new “guiding principles for the city’s public right of way, detailing how we allocate space to transportation, utilities and other public infrastructure.” Lincoln Street’s general travel lanes can be pared down from three to two, to bring it inline with its new street classification. To meet the city’s transit goals for the street, another lane can be dedicated for bus service. And the final lane—which was removed in the past to move cars and currently is a multi-purpose, difficult-to-manage “flex lane” that splits bus hours with car parking—can be permanently transformed into a transit-friendly, easy-to-manage buffer zone.
(Red Carpet Lincoln: Dedicated Offset Bus Lane to provide adequate space for shelters, a buffer zone for a variety of parking types, mixed with in-street tree planters, bollards to limit curb-jumping from crashes, and an asphalt overlay to ensure the longevity of the red paint.)
To get larger numbers of people out of their cars and sustain our urban transit system long-term, we need to go a step further by designing it for human beings. I’ll leave this with some questions for consideration. Would you rather:
- Cross several lanes of speeding vehicles to access a bus stop or light rail station, or two lanes of slower-moving cars?
- Stand at a bus stop just a foot or two away from drivers whizzing around corners, or wait in an area with adequate curb space under a protective shelter?
- See fewer speeding cars on Denver’s streets—including residential local streets which are fed by busy collectors and arterials across the urban street grid—or more cars, more speeding, more crashes, and more deaths?
To address transportation pollution impacts and rising traffic deaths head-on, we need to make the entire experience of transit something that large numbers of people can safely and comfortably opt into. That means we need to invest in repairing the urban spaces that have been cut away in the past to move cars, and redesign our public streetscapes for people so they will choose healthier, safer modes.
The time to do this is now by replacing travel lanes with lower cost tactical transit lanes. Only when we take that step forward will we see a safe, sustainable future for moving people in, out, and around Denver.
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